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telling it like I think it is: sunili’s blog

Posts Tagged ‘Gen Y

career choices (advice from Michelle Obama)

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Ohmygod you guys!!

We just had to select our preferences for the first year rotation at The Firm next year, and have been invited to end of the month drinks to meet everyone, right, and just I randomly found this article from the WashPo – an exerpt from Michelle: A Biography, that is totally speaking to me right now re my life choices as mentioned the other week (and also here).

I am currently flipping out.

Since I can’t really put any coherent thoughts together, I will copy out the relevant bits, but you might want stop reading now because I am about to gratuitously compare my life to Michelle Obama’s.

Here we go:

A driven, focused student, Michelle had propelled herself into the Ivy League and, as a summer associate at Sidley, was starting to reap the benefits. Along with 60 or so other law students, she spent the summer of 1987 being courted by the firm’s highly paid partners — going to baseball games, lunches and happy hours. Her stint there led to a full-time job offer and a stark choice: Work as an associate at a big-name law firm earning about $65,000 a year, or look for something more public service-oriented but likely to be less lucrative.

GAH!!! That’s MY stark choice RIGHT NOW!!!

…she acknowledged that her years at Princeton had changed her. She entered the university, she wrote, determined to use her education to benefit the black community. But by the time she was preparing to graduate, she was not nearly so sure where her obligations lay. “As I enter my final year at Princeton, I find myself striving for many of the same goals as my White classmates — acceptance to a prestigious graduate or professional school or a high paying position in a successful corporation. Thus, my goals after Princeton are not as clear as before.”

GAH again!! I wanted to save Sri Lanka and stuff!!! But then I accepted the fancy job!!!!!!

In Michelle’s case, Sidley Austin was offering a prestigious name and a lucrative starting salary. Michelle had grown up with parents who lived paycheck to paycheck. She had student loans to pay off. In the end, she went with the private firm, a conventional choice and one she would eventually urge others not to make.


I should stop now, but then there’s this, which is TOTALLY ME RIGHT NOW THIS YEAR and therefore makes the previous stuff MORE APPLICABLE:

She was, White recalls, “quite possibly the most ambitious associate that I’ve ever seen.” She wanted significant responsibility right away and was not afraid to object if she wasn’t getting what she felt she deserved, he says.

At big firms, much of the work that falls to young associates involves detail and tedium. There were all sorts of arcane but important rules about what could and could not be said or done in product advertisements, and in the marketing group, all the associates, not just the new ones, reviewed scripts for TV commercials to make sure they conformed. As far as associate work goes, it could have been worse — “Advertising is a little sexier than spending a full year reading depositions in an antitrust law suit or reviewing documents for a big merger,” says White — but it was monotonous and relatively low-level.

Abner Mikva, a former congressman and federal judge who is close to the Obamas and was an early mentor to Barack, finds that account of Michelle’s 20-something impatience amusing. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” he says. Michelle is “clearly somebody who likes to make decisions and likes to be involved in exciting and important stuff. I can imagine writing memos for other lawyers — I don’t think that would have been her favorite dish of tea.”

Well at least that totally disproves the Whiny Gen-Y theory! Victory! I’m just an ambitious person, just like Michelle Obama, that’s all. No need to categorise that work/ambition/whinging thing any further.

Moving on through the article, on to the life/career choices stuff… there’s this bit about when Barack took her to meet a group of people he had worked with as a community organizer before he started law school:

Barack stood up that day, and he spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about the world as it is, and the world as it should be. And he said that, all too often, we accept the distance between the two, and we settle for the world as it is, even when it doesn’t reflect our values and aspirations.”

Yes. The crux of my dilemma.

The next bit of the article goes through the cutesy stuff about them going out, having a long distance relationship while Barrack was studying, getting engaged etc — she she kept nagging about getting marred.

Um. Nope. Totally not the same as her on this bit at all. I have not ever waited for boyfriend while he was studying far away NOR nagged aforemention boyfriend (of nearly four years) that we should just get married. Nup. Never.

Anyway. That’s not the point. The point is about careers:

… Michelle was ready to revisit the choice she’d made when she graduated from Harvard. At the time, she was still reeling from the death of her father in 1991. Fraser Robinson had died while getting ready to go to work, felled by what Barack, in his book “The Audacity of Hope,” describes as complications from a kidney operation. This was an event of enormous emotional and psychological magnitude for Michelle and the rest of her family. At the Democratic National Convention, she described her father as “our rock. Although he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early 30s, he was our provider. He was our champion, our hero. But as he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk. It took him longer to get dressed in the morning.

“But if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing, even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and he worked a little harder.”

His death made Michelle aware of how short life can be and prompted her to reflect, she has said in interviews. “If what you’re doing doesn’t bring you joy every single day, what’s the point?”

Her father’s death wasn’t the only one she was grieving. In 1990, one of Michelle’s closest friends from Princeton, Suzanne Alele, had died from cancer when she was only in her 20s. Alele, a computer specialist at the Federal Reserve, had always followed her heart, doing what felt right rather than what was expected of her. She was described in her alumni obituary as a “free spirit” who was much loved by her classmates.

Michelle resolved to live her own life in that vein. “I wanted to have a career motivated by passion and not just money,” she would tell the New York Times years later.

(emphasis added.)

Ok, truly, I am lucky that my dad nor any closest friends have died (touchwood), but that point is still pertinent to this whole dilemma.

And learning from other people’s mistakes/misfortunes/lessons is the best thing ever, right?

Ok, this is also something I worry about about, CLRLY making me even more the same as her:

In a 2004 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Michelle also expressed a lingering sense of guilt about enjoying so much material success as a big-firm lawyer while others who shared her origins and upbringing were not doing as well. She remembers asking herself, “Can I go to the family reunion in my Benz and be comfortable, while my cousins are struggling to keep a roof over their heads?”

Moreover, she wasn’t enthralled with the work at Sidley Austin and apparently didn’t think many of her colleagues were, either. “I didn’t see a whole lot of people who were just thrilled to be there,” she told Newsweek earlier this year. “I met people who thought this was a good life. But were people waking up just bounding out of bed to get to work? No.”

Yup. Same. I have lots of guilt about that stuff (like here) and, in the last few weeks, even in my non-corporate-law-firm job but that is still dealing with boring-corporate-law, I have been raaaather miserable.

Anyway, then: Michelle went to work at Chicago Department of Planning and Development:

Michelle’s new job was “economic development coordinator,” which city records describe as “developing strategies and negotiating business agreements to promote and stimulate economic growth within the City of Chicago.”

Hello! TOTALLY wrote my thesis on something in that broad general field!!

So now, having established that I AM JUST LIKE MICHELLE OBAMA, let’s have a look-see at what she has advised young people to do with their career choices:

After three years of toiling on behalf of Barney [as in, “The Dinosaur”] and Coors beer, Michelle was working to bring new jobs and vitality to Chicago’s neighborhoods. It was a turning point in her career and in the way she would later frame her life story. Michelle didn’t just leave the world of corporate law; she would go on to publicly reject it.

We don’t need a world full of corporate attorneys and hedge-fund managers,” she said earlier this year as she campaigned in South Carolina.

She and Barack both make a point of talking about how they left corporate America (After graduating from Columbia University, Barack spent one year as a researcher for a Manhattan financial firm before becoming a community organizer) and devoted themselves to public service. “We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do,” Michelle said at a campaign event in Ohio this past winter. “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that.


Oh gods. I need to lie down.

Written by Sunili

8 October 2008 at 9:30 pm

Gen Y goes to work (and whinges about it)

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So I’m a Gen Y, right, and frankly, I’m quite proud of us. While I freely admit that there are some of us who may be narcissistic, materialistic attention-seekers (as an absolutely un-researched, baseless, person opinion, I think this mostly applies to kiddly-winks born after 1986, but I know lots of peeps my age who are like that), I reckon it’s bloody awesome that I went to high school with about five girls who wanted to be PM and change the world, just like I did, and honestly could do it if they really wanted to.

Sure, maybe I just went to a feminazi all-girls school, maybe I hung out with totally geeks, whatevs, but the fact is that there are plenty of good apples to make up for the bad ones, and this applies to “Gen Y” just as much as the Baby Boomers and whatever other generations there are (just KIDDING!!).

But we’re still getting a bad rap for being whiny little twerps. A few months ago there was this article on Jezebel (heart) that, ironically, I was reading at work because I was so over my shitty job (which I totally did not go to six years of university to get paid at public service salary for):

I spoke with an acquaintance who just graduated from college last May, and is about eight months into her first-ever job. I asked her, now that the stress of the first six months and figuring out the lay of the land, how she likes her work. “I answer the phone and file things,” she said. “You don’t need a college degree to do what I do. It’s stupid that I am in this job.”

Jezebel cited and NYT article that quoted Dan Pink (who is totally Oprah’s new guru, by the way) on what’s wrong with Gen Y and why we’re whinging about having to do shit jobs when, frankly, we’re way too awesome to have to do that:

“This generation has been spoon-fed self-esteem cereal for the past 22 years,” he said. “They’ve been told it’s all about them — what they want, what they are passionate about, what they find fulfilling. That’s not a bad message, but it’s also not a complete message.”

This point of view is shared among many, apparently:

“Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today’s workforce,” says Jordan Kaplan, an associate managerial science professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn in New York. “They’ve grown up questioning their parents, and now they’re questioning their employers. They don’t know how to shut up, which is great, but that’s aggravating to the 50-year-old manager who says, ‘Do it and do it now.’ “

But Dan Pink has some life-lessons for us, so that we get the complete message:

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko” (Riverhead Trade) is a career guide cum manga comic designed to appeal to the newest entrants to the workplace. During the illustrated tale, the title character learns six lessons that Gen Y workers might not have fully absorbed at home.

I scanned over the 23-page preview that’s available online, and urgh, don’t you just hate it when you realise someone’s got you pegged?

So I’m sitting here on a Saturday night, and I am actually supposed to be doing work (but surprise, surprise, I’m blogging, but fricking-eh, it’s Saturday night) because my co-worker is going on holidays and my boss is making me finish HER work as well, and I know I’m not going to get that done otherwise.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been completely miserable about my work lot, because this was totally not what I had reasonably expected to be this job to be like — if I’d really wanted to be doing work at home on a Saturday night, I’d have gone straight to The Firm and been happy with the  nice-little private-sector salary I’d be getting in lieu of free time. I was totally expecting to not only be working 9-5 flat, but also have really interesting work to be doing (which my collegues get to do — grumble grumble)

But do you know what freaks the heck out of me?

The blurb to Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind — Oprah’s new bible about “professional success and personal fulfillment” in the post-Information Age — highlights that lawyers (and accountants and software engineers etc) are totally going to be part of the dead professions. So where will that leave me?

Freaking out in the cobwebs?


Written by Sunili

5 July 2008 at 8:19 pm

Posted in work

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old news, but just as serious

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Just found this amazing video on backinskinnyjeansand I just had to reblog it in the hope just a few more people get to see it.

At the age of 12 Severn Cullis-Suzuki, David Suzuki‘s daughter, gave this truly inspirational speech at the UN Earth Summit in 1992.

I love that she was 12 and so fricking gutsy to get up there and say this stuff (obviously her family connections helped, but that was still her up there. Go girl). The thing that worries me is that she said it SIXTEEN years ago and no one listened to her.

All the things 12-year-old Servern was worried about haven’t resulted in Armageddon, sure, but we’re “fighting inflation” caused by rises in petrol prises caused by continued rising thirst for oil that hasn’t let up over the past decade and a half.

When I was growing up, Captain Planet and the Planeteers and Wiget the World Watcher were educating us about the perils of pollution and environmental degradation. My parents brought me and my brother up knowing that recycling and turning off lights and electrical equipment at the wall was what we HAD TO DO long before it became cool to be climate conscious.

It wasn’t optional for us then, as Servern pointed out, but the most important thing to realise now that it’s even LESS optional.

I just hope it’s not too late.

The video in this post from GenPink is also very interesting on this point.

Written by Sunili

7 June 2008 at 7:56 pm

Posted in climate change

Tagged with , ,

Networkers and Gen Y (or: “The Blind Leading the Bionic-Visioned?”)

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Networking (v): 1. to establish communication links with other people as a means of exchanging ideas, information and useful contacts;
2. schmoozing and oozing general creepiness at functions when most (normal) people are quite happy to be left alone to their own devices.

Last week I attended a ‘networking’ function organised by the Law Society of WA’s Young Lawyers Committee.

Aside from the fact I was totally exhausted (urgh, friggin‘ 9-5; I’m usually failing to retain normal levels of consciousness by Wednesday mornings, and this was on a bloody Thursday night) I really enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with people from high school and law school who’ve also entered the legal ‘profession’, as aptly described by The Hon Chief Justice of WA, Wayne Martin.

The CJ’s speech was pretty funny, and although it was a little long since he’d spent the first 5 minutes talking about how he knows we must get bored from long speeches from old grey-haired dudes when we would rather be drinking and catching up with mates, at least it was semi-inspirational and entertaining.

The main speaker was a chap called Ron Gibson, Managing Director of Go Networking. Apparently he was there to impart some wisdom and ‘networking’ tools and tips which may put us young’uns in a better position for advancing our careers.

The invite to the function describes him as a “networking guru”. A google (v) of the guy reveals that this he is

the country’s foremost [self-established] authority in the field and subject of business networking – the art and skill of forming and cultivating those all-important business connections. Ron’s presentation offered proven techniques and approaches that you can use to network effectively and socialise successfully in any situation, to network within your industry for maximum effect and to cultivate your new contacts into profitable, long-term business partnerships.

I (and I may speak on behalf of a significant portion of the attendees) would describe him as a bit of a git, but I suppose he’s just doing his job, and I shouldn’t diss what people have to do to put food on their families.

But I just as I don’t want to have to deal with some drug dealer trying to peddle me WizzFizz while I’m chatting to my mates, I’d rather not have to listen to some motivational-life-coach-guy try to teach me about what I should and should not do at parties when I just want to be chatting to my mates.

Because that’s what this networking guy was trying to do.

One of the blogs I’m really enjoying at the moment made some interesting comments about networkers the other day:

Networkers always struck me as overenthusiastic people, the sort of people who want to be your friend right away. They want to know everything about you, where you were born, what your first boyfriend’s name was, what color your childhood blankie was and whatever happened to it. They come off a little creepy, and remind you vaguely of your mother at the dinner table the first time you brought a boyfriend home.

Sounds horrible, dunnit? Well. It could be worse. Some old guy could be standing on a podium trying to tell you that this is what you should be doing every day if you want to get anywhere in life now that you’re out of the playpen that was university. Yep, that stuff was essentially the gist of what Mr Networking Guruji was trying to get us to do to improve our Brand Recognition rating or something. Not many people were impressed.

Tei at Rogue Ink goes on to explain that she now likes networkers despite the fact they are freaks because they are “lovable, wonderful, indispensable” variety of freaks. But, I guess since I haven’t had a networker help to set me up with helpful people who may want to give me bags of money/opportunities, I still consider them, and the whole concept of what they do, to be just plain annoying.

It just seems so smarmy to “network” in the way he was trying to “teach” us.

There were several times during Gibson’s “lesson” when he could not be heard over the rabble of people who had lost interest after he explained that his credentials for teaching young lawyers how to network stems from his being the step-grandson of the founding partners of the Perth firm Gibson & Gibson.

While it was pretty embarrassing to have him try to talk over us like he was a teacher trying to re-gain the attention a rowdy class of Year Fours (especially when the Chief Justice was in the room observing it all*) it made me wonder a couple of things about this whole business networking thing as it relates to us i.e. Kids These Days.

Firstly, does all this schmoozing actually work, and secondly, because it seems to have worked for people who are currently In the business world (if it hasn’t why the hell are we still hearing about it?? Have they all been duped???), do we really have to learn how to be a schmaltzy tool, or can we get by doing things our way?

By our way, I mean the Gen Y way. I realise that that the Baby Boomers in management and our Gen X co-workers hate us, and I’m sure we can learn a few tips from our elders, but I have a tip for them too. If they want to impress us, in terms of trying to recruit us or offer their services to us, they should bloody stop talking at us and rather talk with us.

Because we’re know-it-alls and we freaking know it. So if someone tries to treat us like idiots, we’ll probably lose respect for them quick-smart. Which definitely what happened the other night.

So back to my ponderences on networking… what I was wondering the other night was whether we really need to be taught about making small-talk and the importance of ‘making contacts’. It just seems to me that we’ve grown up having those sorts of ideas as a given, and we’re pretty capable of introducing ourselves to friends-of-friends, or even randoms at parties or gatherings, and keeping in touch. And not to mention our aptitude at using the internet to establish and “grow” our network connections.

By the way, I can’t seem to find this “networking guru’s” website, so I think his Brand Recognition efforts totally suck on the whole internet issue.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being a Gen Y brat. Thanks to the YLC for organising the night; I’m sure if we were less full of ourselves we would’ve gotten more out of it.

– – –

*Speaking of the CJ. At one point in the night, when I managed to find myself in a little group with a fellow Judge’s Associate and His Honour, he tried to introduce himself, as any good, nice, polite person would do when seeing someone they’ve never met before standing an the group you’re chatting with. “Hi, Wayne Martin” he said, extending his hand out. “Yes, I know you, Sir,” I replied, shaking his hand, “I work for you.” He looked down at my name tag, which had “Supreme Court of WA” under my name, and went “Oh right”, clearly not having any clearer idea of who I was. Me thinks I need to work on my Brand Recognition. Or at least spend more time in the main building.

Written by Sunili

22 April 2008 at 7:44 pm

Posted in law, work

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